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Posts Tagged ‘blessing’

 Here is a secret. I like food. Usually I eat when I’m hungry, but sometimes I eat just because I think I want something. Jesus must have known this would be the case. Here we are talking about the beatitudes at lunch during lent and today’s beatitude tells us “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

 Unfortunately, I know that my appetite for righteousness is not always as strong as my appetite for these sandwiches we’re eating here today. My appetite for righteousness is not always what it should be.

 Mom and I celebrate our birthdays just two days apart. On account of that we have often shared birthday celebrations. Sometimes we have gone out to eat. While growing up, eating out often meant a place like Wendy’s. On special occasions, we might have gone to the Ponderosa. But on one memorable birthday, when I was in my teens, it was decided we would go to the Red Lobster.

 We had driven past the Red Lobster many times. We knew what it was, it was a place for other people to eat while we were at Wendy’s. But not on this birthday. On this birthday we were Red Lobster people. Our family of six walked in like we belonged there. It was exciting. It felt like going to the fair or some other event. This was a special occasion.

 We received the menus, we looked them over, and when the server came Dad ordered a sampler. The sampler was good. I tried lobster for the first time, crab for the first time, scallops for the first time. But we had not really done our homework, this sampler was not intended for a family of six, and we couldn’t afford Red Lobster prices. It was the hungriest birthday ever. I think we left that night and went to Wendy’s.

 But I knew from that day that I loved seafood. I had enough of a taste to make me want it again. Perhaps that is why I join a group of friends who share this love and occasionally drive down to the MD border just to eat seafood. Honestly, its too far to drive and costs too much, but still we do it because we have a hunger for seafood.

 That gets us on track for what Jesus is talking about. When he talks about a hunger and thirst for righteousness, he is not talking about choosing righteousness off a menu as if there are other options just as good. Jesus is interested in a hunger that makes you willing to drive too far and spend too much. Jesus is interested in a hunger that causes you pains until you get your fill. Jesus wants to know if after sampling small portions with your family of six, have you developed a lifetime appetite for righteousness?

 To hunger and thirst for something implies some risk. To hunger and thirst implies there is something you need or else you will die. Jesus is suggesting you can’t live in the kingdom of God without this righteousness.

 These beatitudes come to us as blessings and they help us to understand what it is like to live in a different kingdom – the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom is marked by people who live in certain ways. And this beatitude tells us the kingdom of heaven looks like people who want righteousness so badly they can taste it. And once they get a taste for it, they want more of it, they would be willing to drive far and spend much just to have it. There is nothing they want more, they would sell everything just to have it.

 Jesus wants us to become this kind of people. He doesn’t want us to wait until heaven to behave like this – he prays “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus wants us to desire this stuff now.

 Righteousness becomes important in the gospel. Not too many verses later, Jesus says “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness.” Then, “your righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” Then, “don’t practice your righteousness in order to be seen by others.” And then, after telling us not to worry about food and drink and what to wear, he says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… and these things will be added.” As it turns out, this righteousness is very important stuff.

 Perhaps a starter definition is in order. With help from Scot McKnight, here is a place to begin; 1) righteousness is listening to Jesus, 2) righteousness focuses on God first and not on the approval of others, 3) righteousness is the way kingdom citizens live in a world full of people who do not live that way.

 Welcome to the world of righteousness! Or as Matthew would say “Welcome to the kingdom of heaven!”

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” God knows what we need. God knows we need food and drink (maybe even some occasional seafood), God knows what we need in order to live and wants us to know that greater than any other needs is our need for righteousness. Perhaps the question for us is “how far are we willing to drive for that?”

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Genesis wants us to know that Isaac survived and he had children. One of them is Jacob. My friend Mike has helped me with a picture of Jacob. This grandchild of Abraham was a conniving, deceitful, momma’s boy. He was a secular, self-made man who believed God helps those who help themselves. Jacob believes in God but is not convinced that God has anything to do with his life.

He goes through the motions as if he has some control. He pretends he is writing his own story. But then one night he falls to sleep and God shows up. Jacob awakes literally and theologically and observes “God is in this place.” He calls this place Bethel. Jacob is no returning prodigal yet God comes to meet him. God is not a distant force; God is involved in this world.

It is worth noting that Jacob has this dream in the middle of nowhere with his head lying on a rock. Later, Moses finds a burning bush. The psalmist will sing “where can I go from his presence?” Disciples will encounter the unexpected presence of God on the road to Emmaus. Saul is met with the presence of the Lord on the road to Damascus. There is no such place as nowhere, it’s all Bethel. The place you least expect will be the place God will show. Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush a fire with God.

Jacob should have been on time out, instead he finds himself in the presence of God. No one is in the presence of God because we deserve it. Jacob is not a candidate for an important role. He has torn his family apart. Yet he is invited to rejoin the family and find his place in a larger story. God is doing something in the world and for the world and wants Jacob to be part of it. Jacob becomes part of God’s plan to bless the world.

Frederick Buechner gives an interesting first person account of blessing in his novel about Jacob, Son of Laughter. “My mother had more than once told me about the day when Abraham gave the blessing to Laughter. She said the camels had all made water at once. Flying birds had hung motionless in the air. Laughter’s face had given off light.” In response to his own blessing he deceitfully received from Isaac, Jacob says, “It was not I who ran off with my father’s blessing. It was my father’s blessing that ran off with me… The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own.”

Before the Genesis story ends we find Jacob in Egypt.  He is here to ask Pharaoh for bread. He hopes Pharaoh will be generous. And yet he is there blessing the Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the world power. He held the control. He made decisions that influenced the world. He has need of nothing. Jacob, on the other hand, has nothing. He certainly has nothing Pharaoh needs. Still he blesses Pharaoh.

The fact is, Jacob knows some things Pharaoh does not. He woke one morning after sleeping on a rock and things were never the same for him again. Jacob has been pulled into a narrative that is world changing. He has become part of a story Pharaoh is not aware of. Jacob knows that God is doing something in the world and for the world.

Ever since the days of his grandma and grandpa, Jacob knows God has been seeking ways to bless the nations. His grandfather, Abraham, once had the opportunity to bless Egypt. Instead, Abraham took the promise into his own hands. Jacob has no such designs, he has nothing. Nothing but this promise of blessing. This blessing, both beautiful and appalling, has taken Jacob to Egypt. And he blesses Pharaoh. Claus Westermann says it like this, “The shepherd from the steppe… performs the gesture of blessing on the powerful and divine one.” This is good news. Even Pharaohs and world powers are in need of this blessing.

Westermann reminds us blessing has been given to the patriarchs and is passed from fathers to the children. As Isaac received blessing from Abraham and Jacob received blessing from Isaac, so Jacob blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. But Genesis wants to be sure we know blessing is not only for family succession. This is not only a clan religion. This blessing is for all people.

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